Strategists of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) indicate that they have taken a calculated risk by ignoring dissenting voices in Uttar Pradesh and going ahead with the decision to replace two sitting parliamentarians — Murli Manohar Joshi with BJP's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi in Varanasi and Lalji Tandon with party president Rajnath Singh in Lucknow.
A file photo of BJP senior leader Murli Manohar Joshi addressing the media at his residence in New Delhi. (HT photo/Vipin Kumar)
However, dissidents feel the party's decision, taken in consultation with its ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), may hit the BJP's poll prospects in UP.
Both Joshi and Tandon made their displeasure public after being made to vacate their seats. The dissent is expected to grow since the party is likely to give tickets to several outsiders in various UP constituencies in its subsequent list.
Dissenting notes emanated from Deoria in east UP, where the party fielded veteran Kalraj Mishra, ignoring former state BJP chief Surya Pratap Shahi, who had begun preparations to contest the polls.
"It appears that loyalty has no value in the party. Outsiders are being brought in and given tickets at the last moment. This will affect the party's performance. What could have been 60 seats from UP might now be restricted to 35-odd seats," a disgruntled BJP leader said.
Party insiders said desperate efforts were on to persuade dissenting leaders. But saffron party's strategists said they had done their homework well ahead of what they described as perform-or-perish elections.
They cited 'internal surveys' to explain their decision to shuffle constituencies of top leaders.
"The survey had predictably indicated anti-incumbency in major constituencies. While there is indeed a Modi wave, the party cannot take a chance this time.
"To replace existing MPs, you needed candidates who had a bigger profile and who could galvanise the party organisation in UP," a party insider claimed.
Clearly, the BJP is looking at a long-term revival strategy in UP, where the saffron party's fortunes have taken a nosedive both in the assembly and the Lok Sabha polls.
A couple of weeks ago, BJP's UP in-charge Amit Shah, a Modi aide, had revealed during informal talks that he was looking to complete his full three-year term in the state.
"I am not going anywhere. Hopefully, you will see me in the state even after the Lok Sabha polls," he had said.
A BJP leader said Lucknow and Varanasi suit the personalities of Rajnath and Modi perfectly.
"Modi was mentored by Advani, who was known as a hardliner before he attempted to showcase himself in the (AB) Vajpayee mould. Rajnath, on the other hand, had the backing of Vajpayee, who was known as the moderate face of the BJP.
"The present sitting MPs of Varanasi and Lucknow carry this image too – Joshi is considered politically closer to the hardline faction and Tandon a moderate face."
Rajnath Singh Surya, a veteran political analyst, gives the other perspective.
"Varanasi is the oldest living city in the world. It is a virtual mini-India with people from across the country having their own colonies. Also, its proximity to Bihar could help the party's influence in the region," he said.
Professor MP Dube of the political science department of Allahabad University said, "By getting Modi to contest from Varanasi, an important centre of Hindu pilgrimage, the party is attempting to not just retain the seat but also make an impact in east UP, where the BJP hasn't done well for a long time."
Dube added 'negating anti-incumbency against sitting MPs like Joshi and Tandon could also have been the reason why party shuffled its top leaders'.
The saffron camp also believes that Joshi being a senior Brahmin leader would help tap community's vote in Kanpur, where party has been losing primarily due to 'infighting'.